Grace on the Field

13 02 2009

 

1223reilly1

Few people would expect to find grace at a high school football game in the middle of Texas on a Friday night.  Texas is known for its high school football being possibly the most competitive and tough in the country.  It’s take no prisoners reputation has spawned big screen movies and a television series.  So no one would have ever expected to see a life changing display of grace in Grapevine, Texas on a Friday night at a high school game, but that is just what they found.  

The game on that Friday night was between Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State.  It was the oddest game from the very beginning.  The spirit line was there with all of Faith’s students and fans lined up on the field for the players as they ran out to wild cheers, but it was Gainesville State’s players who ran through to the roar of the line and fans.  

The stadium was full of homemade spirit banners, like ones you might find any Friday at a High School game, but the signs held by Faith’s students said “Go Tornadoes!” and, well, Grapevine Faith’s mascot is a lion.

At least the fans were all there. Both the home team and guest team bleachers were filled, but they were all filled with Faith fans who, oddly enough, were cheering for Gainesville State’s players.

By now you’re probably thinking that this is one of those games where everyone comes together because the other team has lost a player or faced a tragedy beyond their control.  Not really, the grace at this game went a little deeper than that.   

When the game was over it wasn’t even close.  Faith destroyed Gainesville State 33-14.  However the strangeness continued.  The losing team received a standing ovation and the losing coach was showered with a traditional Gatorade victory bath.  

The 12 uniformed officers who had stood at Gainesville State’s sideline seemed to be out of place throughout the game but now moved into action as they began to escort the players off the field in pairs and load them onto the waiting bus.  The bus which would return them to their maximum-security prison.

Faith is a Christian High School and its head football coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to teach his players a life lesson about grace.  He did much more.  He taught an entire school and town.  However, perhaps most importunely, he taught some boys who had committed violent crimes that mercy can transcend justice.  In the world where most of these inmates had lived, that was something they had never encountered before a Friday night, on a football field, in Grapevine, Texas.

When he first had the idea he told his players, “Here’s the message I want you to send to the boys at Gainesville State:  You are just as valuable as any other person on Earth.”

One last thing happened right before those armed guards led the Gainesville boys back to their prison.  Everyone gathered in the center of the field to pray and, to the shock of almost everyone there, it was a Gainesville player that asked to pray.  “Lord,” he began, “I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

The Faith fans and players watched as the prison bus pulled away.  The Gainesville boys had their hands pressed to the windows watching, as if they wanted one last look at these strange people who showed them grace when no one else would.  Then Coach Hogan and his players turned to walk back to the locker room.  

You’re not supposed to cry in locker rooms after you have won a Friday night game, but it was not an ordinary game that Friday night in Grapevine, Texas. These boys had learned there are some things much more important than winning and that maybe, sometimes, real men do cry.